Across the world, places of worship have always been the cornerstones that have defined the identity of that particular region, religion, or civilization. Being a frequent traveler, over the years I have had a chance to visit a huge range of attractions all over the world. Some attractions are famous because they are top tourist destination and known to all and are on the top 10 places to visit on websites. My favorite kind, however, are the kinds that you have to dig deep to discover. India being a coutry that has a big string of culture that binds people together, makes the whole thought of discovering it so exciting. Being the part of the country where I was born and have an emotional connection to planning this trip in South India with my loved ones, made it special.
Whenever you pay a visit to any part of India, you would find temples dotted on its land. These religious temples of India are not just a means to dive deep in spirituality but a way to connect to their habits. So now that you know my thoughts about planning a spiritual tour in India, in this blog I take you to some of the most stunning places that country has to offer.
I planned this trip with my husband and mother as they are loving, charismatic and enthusiastic people. We visited 62 temples and attractions in a span of 18 days which seemed hectic when we wrote it down, but it didn’t feel hectic because of the exciting moments we had together. I thought of shortlisting 20 temples and attractions you ought to visit once in your lifetime.
Are you ready? Let’s go.
I. Tirupati Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh, India
A visit to this temple is going to be one of the biggest highlights of any pilgrimage ttrip you have ever made. The mad queues, non-stop chanting, high security, heavily adorned idol and the energy around the god is something you wont find anywhere else. Tirupati is simply alluring in all ways and the Venkateshwara temple is one of the most significant religious landmarks in India.
Geoghraphically, the temple is referred to as the “Temple of seven hills” and is spread over a massive 26.75 sq.kms of area. Shri Venkateshwara temple is the wealthiest temples in India because of the donations offered every year. Devotees usually climb the seven hills to get to the top and that is exactly what I did. I managed to get to Tirumala in about 3.5 hours, however the average time is about 6 hours for most people. I took it up as a personal physical challenge to climb it so quickly.
For me personally, two things made my experience here unique, climbing 7 hills barefoot and climbing it on a very rainy day. On the way to the top to Tirumala, we found a lot of refreshments like freshly cut unripe mangoes as well as juice, water etc.
Tirupati is all about finding your tranquility amongst all the chaos!
You can alternatively get to the top of Tirumala by car, but for me this is not the experience i would recommend. Finding accomodation at Tirupati ( below the seven hills) is more comfortable than Tirumala because you have the option of decent hotels.
II. Five Rathas, Mahablipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Based on the famous mythlogical story of the Mahabharata, huddled together at the southern end of Mamallapuram, the Five Rathas are astonishingly, all carved from single large rocks. I studied about them for the first time during my architecture degree and have been fascinated with this ever since. Each of these fine rocks are all from the 7th-century are are dedicated to a Hindu god. These are named after the Pandava brothers from the epic Mahabharata.
The life-size stone elephant besideone of the ratha’s is one of India’s most famous sculpted elephants. Built in the 7th century AD during the reign of Pallava king Narsimhavarman I, I was impressed at what a well organized UNESCO world heritage site this is.
This place also holds a very important place in Indian history as so many other parts of India, and this reflects the architectural and heritage wonders from our past.
III. Krishna’s Butter Ball, Mahablipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Perched on a steep rock slope in the historic town of Mahabalipuram, India, this is a hidden wonder. The massive boulder known as Krishna’s Butter Ball defy’s gravity and amazes tourists.
This giant boulder appears to be frozen on a downhill and rests on a very small it sits on portion, and no one is quite sure why. Local legends have other versions of the story behind the rock. According to Hindu mythology, the rock is called Krishna butter ball because the god was fond of stealing butter. Following this tradition, the big stone is perceived to be a ball of butter the god dropped. It is a must- see when you are visiting the other monuments because many toursits miss this one.
IV. Kailasanathar Temple, Kancheepuram,Tamil Nadu, India
This temple is one of a kind constructed mostly of limestone, the walls and vimaanam of this temple are filled with unique sculptures, and paintings on every inch. There are 58 small shrines situated around the main shrine. Legend states the design of the temple is oriented on the principle of life and death. The antient tamil texts adorn the inner walls of the shrines. It is believed that the temple also served as the king’s shelter during wars and the remains of an escape tunnel, and I had a chance to move through this narrow tunnel. The tunnel is behind the shrine and is narrow and dark and yoou have to push yourself through it.
Being a shiva temple, thousands of ardent devotees converge to the temple on the day of Maha Shivratri. The temple is under maintenance of the Department of Archeology, and the good part is we were allowed to freely photograph the sculptures in and outside the temple. To add to it, I adorned myself with these lovely flowers outside the temple.
V. Kallazhagar Temple, Alagarkovil,Madurai,Tamil Nadu, India
Kallazaghar temple is one of the most architecturally stunning temples I have come across. The earliest architectural history recorded from this temple is dated to have been built in the 3rd century CE. There have been renovations, repairs and rebuilding over the years, but the original charm still remains. What was so unique about this temple, was its columns, they have a smokey, black colour to it and are towering.
When you walk into this temple, you can instantly feel positive vibrations. This temple is very important in tthe 108 divya desham for south indians as an abode of Lord Vishnu. There are many smaller shrines for Vishnu and Laxmi idols all over the temple. The temple is larger than it seems at first, so big that you can almost get lost in.
This temple for me was divine, isolated and casted a lot of positive energy and remains in a very special spot in my heart.
VI. Meenakshi Temple,Madurai,Tamil Nadu, India
Meenakshi temple is one of the most talked about temples of South India, with thousands of people visiting each day. Meenakshi is located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River and this temple is an epitome of classic architecture.
The murals so gorgeous that it will take your breath away, it took mine away. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi, this temple has become a major tourist spot over the years and I was amazed with the level of security.
Picture Credits: @lonelyplanet, @common.wikimedia.org, @pinterest.com, @swarajyamag.com, @myindiamyglory.com
VII. The Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram, TN, India
The enchanting Dhanushkodi beach is also called ghost town because of its complicated history. This is the location where India meets Sri lanka and those of you who have been here know all about what a visually special place this is. When i visited this place, it casted a very special impact in my mind and I wanted to spend all my time on this beach.A cyclone 54 years ago had destroyed this place to bits, so you still see old, broken structures all around this place. Even though this place was massively destroyed, there are still a bunch of shops that sell products to tourists who visit on an every day basis.
When I visited, I was not so lucky with having a chance to visit right till the end of the road because of a sudden water flooding. The views on either side of Dhanushkodi showcase the blue confluence of the Indian ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Using this as an opporunity, me and my husband, droned over the blues. It was magical to be on the beach, however I was a little dissapointed seeing the amount of trash on the beach.
VIII. Shravanabelagola Temple, Hassan, Karnataka, India
Located just one kilometer away from the small town of Shravanabelagola, this is an important pilgrim spot for Jain’s. The reason why I was so drawn to visiting it was because it is famous for the world’s tallest monolithic stone statue. The statue represents Bahubali, who was an important Jain preacher. The temple is located on top of a hill, so it requires some climbing. There are approximately 600 steps to reach the temple, and after Tirumala this seemed to be a cakewalk for me.
The scale of the statue is magnificent and you can experience its true glory when you stand in front of the statue’s feet. Apart from this I also learned that there are many interesting bathing rituals that take place on Mahamastakabhishekam festival. This takes place every 12 years and they even have had a helicopter drop flowers on top of this towering statue.
V. Hulikere Kalyani Step Well, Karnataka, India
Tucked away in a small rural village in Hulikere, Karnataka lies one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. Amidst small village homes there is a beautiful ornate step well from the 12th century. This tank is regarded to be one of the important milestones for Hoysala architecture. Being an astrologer, this tank was very fascinating to me as it is known to be based upon the 28 nakshatras. The 28 small shrines around the tank represent stellar constellations, that can only be spotted in the night sky. It amazes me how they managed to design something this beautiful and ornate. Many historians believe that these shrines once housed beautifully carved idols and the inscriptions in this tank is a thousand years old. UNESCO has preserved this site as well as they could.
X. Hoysaleshwar temple, Halebeedu, Karnataka, India
Hoysaleswara Temple is the most beautiful temple I have ever come across. This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has carvings in stone that you have never probably seen or will ever see your whole life. To me, any words will be less to express the true beauty of this temple.
The Hoysaleswara temple is located 150 kms from Mysore, which happens to be the closest big city. The construction of the temple began in the 12th century by the King of the Hoysala dynasty and they have left this marvel as a timeless expression of their architecture. This temple is easy to access even from Belur.
The coloumns of this temple impressed me so much, because every column design is absolutely different from the other. I spent my time photographing all these different kinds of coloums to never forgett it’s exceptional charm.
XI. Chennakeshava temple, Haleebidu, Karnataka, India
Located very close to Hoysaleshwar temple is Chennakeshava temple in Haleebidu, Karnataka. This is one of the most popular temple from the Hoysala dynasty with hundreds of people visiting it. With temple being so well spread out, no matter how many people visit this temple, it does not feel cramped up. I clicked way too many photos through my trip, but this one below is my favourite.
Adding to the beauty of the temple is a ‘Kalyani’, also commonly known as a step well. These ornate step wells were the important architectural features in all Hoysala temples. There was something very positive and wonderful about walking through the large open spaces in this temple on a rainy day. Some days never come back!
XII Veerabhadra Swamy Temple, Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh, India
This temple unlike many others we visited, had many elements to it that made it worth driving all the way to Andhra Pradesh to. This temple is famous for its mandapa, the naga, tthe sita footprint and the hanging pillar. Five minutes away from the Veerabhadra swamy temple is the well known monolithic nandi. The fact that this was built out of a monolithic rock, with age old hand tools is mind-blowing to me. The open spaces in this temple takes you back in history, living and breathing our culture.
The nandi is approximately 27ft in length and 15ft in height, it is a majestic structure, reputedly India’s biggest monolithic Nandi. Besides the size, the proportions of the body, has finely-carved ornaments. The contours on the body are smooth which adds to the grandeur. The nandi and the naga were my two biggest reasons to visit this temple and it was worth the visit. Another element which was very special to me was the mural paintings of the Vijayanagar kings on tthe ceilings of the inner shrine which are colored with natural paints. There are 24 by 14 ft fresco’s of Veerabhadra on the ceilings, and it is also the largest in India of any single figure.
This temple dates back to the 14th centtury and was lying beneath tthe ground for a long time until it was excavated by the British. This temple was a 10/10 when it came to being unique. The idea of the sanctum remaining submerged in water and unreachable was one of my main reasons for the curiosity. The whole temple is located a few meters below the ground in such a way that the oof of the temple is at current ground level. One has to walk almost 20 meters through 2 feet water to reach to the room with Lord Shiva statue. Local legends say the water is channelled straight from the Tunghabhadra river.
XIII. Vijaya Vitthala Temple, Hampi, India
By this point of our trip, we had seen the most magnificent structures India had to offer in terms of splendid archiecture. The Vittala Temple in Hampi is known for its exceptional architecture and unmatched craftsmanship when it comes to the stone chariot. I travelled a long way to see this monolithic stone chariot, and a lot of tourists visit this temple. That is exactly why i is better to go during the first 30 minutes of when the temple opens up. I had to visit this temple twice in order to capture the stone chariot without hundreds of people around it. The stone chariot is truly incomparable with any other element of this temple. It also has tons of fascinating musical pillars all around the shrines. In terms of stone carving details, nothing came close to Hoysaleshwar temple in Haleebidu. But nevertheless, this was beautiful in it’s own way!
XIV. Laxmi Narasimha Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India
The Lakshmi Narasimha statue is one of the most imposing, grand sculptures found in the ruins of Hampi. The most fascinating thought for me here was how vast and rich the Vijaynagara empire rule was. Every one kilometer of Hampi, has an architectural heritage from the early 1500’s. This sculpture is that it is the largest monolith statue in Hampi, and is not usually very crowded. To add to this happiness, there were a lot of monkeys hanging around the this gigantic stone structure. Built in the year 1528 A.D. constructed during the rule of Krishnadevaraya, one of the greatest rulers of the Vijayanagara takes me back in time.
XV.Badava Linga Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India
It is truly ineffable to describe the alluring affect this architecture has on a viewer. It depicts power, culture and tradition of the vijaynagar empire. Every day was an adventure with more to explore, more to learn and travel to. This linga is enclosed in a small shrine rightt nextt to thte Lakshmi Narasimha temple. Badava Linga is a 9 ft tall Shiva Linga and carved out of a single black stone. The inner sanctum has no ceiling and the Shiva Linga is always submerged in water since an ancient times.
XVI. Underground Shiva Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India
The underground shiva temple is unique because of it is is one of the oldest in the town. This temple dates back to the 14th centtury and was lying beneath tthe ground for a long time until it was excavated by the British. This temple was a 10/10 when it came to being unique. The idea of the sanctum remaining submerged in water and unreachable was one of my main reasons for the curiosity.
The whole temple is located a few meters below the ground in such a way that the oof of the temple is at current ground level. One has to walk almost 20 meters through 2 feet water to reach to the room with Lord Shiva statue. Local legends say the water is channelled straight from the Tunghabhadra river.
XVII. Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India
A story carved in stone!
The Hazara Rama Temple is a unique temple for many reasons. The first thing that drew my attention about the temple is its name: ‘Hazara Rama’. This literally translates to a thousand Rama’s and refers to the multitude of relics on every facade of this temple.
The walls of the temple carry the entire story of Ramayana carved on stone. I had a chance to be here during sunset and it was one of the most lovely experiences in my life.
XVIII Achyutaraya temple, Hampi, Karnataka, India
The Achyuta Raya Temple is in Hampi was built 1534 AD, and is geographically surrounded by hills and other smaller temples. This is where me and my mother had a chance to sing a devotional song for god. This temple has an energy you cannot quite put into words. It is all about the experience and being there to appreciate the Vijayanagara architecture style. This temple was one of the last temples that were constructed in Hampi prior to the decline of the empire due to the Mughals.
XIX Pattadakal Group of Monuments
Pattadakal monuments takes any tourist back to the 7th and 8th century in India showcasing a fusion of architectural styles. The monuments were constructed during the Chalukya dynasty reign and there are 9-10 temples in the complex. The architecture on the exterior may seem really stunning, but i cannot begin to explain how beautiful the interiors are. There are carvings on top of colomns that have elephant heads jutting out. The shrines have just a single skylight on the top, giving it a dim aesthetic. It was truly magical!
XX. Bhootanatha temple and Badami caves
Last on my list, but not the least!
The Bhootanatha temple is a part of the Badami cave temple complex and is located on thte banks of the river. When i was planning this trip, and looked at this kind of a photo, I felt instantly drawn towards heading there. This temple almost overlooks the Badami cave temple complex and harnesses a unique style of rock cut architecture.
Just having some pure, relaxing moments by the banks of this temple was a nourishing experience for me. Walking inside the rock cut portions of the cave just makes you feel and experience the amount of time and effort it took to build these structures. They built it in a belief that they wanted it to last many lifetimes, and they still stand with the same enchanting atmosphere.
That was my Incredible India journey, with 6 domestic flights, 30 plus hours in the cars, changing hotels every night and visiting 62 places in 17 days. And the most important among all, several hours of planning.
For a closing thought, this blog reminds me of a quote: